The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Margo Bellamy | School Board Seat: A | Age: 60 | Occupation: Adjunct professor | Margobellamy.com
What is a short summary of your background?
I am Margo Bellamy and Anchorage has been my home since 1973. From the flight into Anchorage, I knew that this sacred land held the promise that is measured by the hopes and dreams of its citizens, unlimited opportunities and access to quality education. Today, I still feel this sense of awe in my hometown! I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where I met my husband, Howard, now a retired veteran. As a middle child, I quickly learned the values of teamwork, respect and compromise. While my education career shaped my passion for human rights, inclusion, equity, diversity, and social justice. Howard and I are the proud parents of two adult children who graduated from Polaris K-12 and Bettye Davis East Anchorage High Schools, and two grandchildren who currently attend ASD Schools.
Why are you running?
I am running for reelection to continue the journey that compelled me to run in 2019. I believe in the power and promise of public education, and I remain focused on the education, safety and well-being of ALL children, and the adults that teach and care for them daily in our school. In the last three years, we have made great strides toward identifying and implementing the community’s vision and values for public education in Anchorage. We listened to community input to create the district’s 2021-2026 strategic plan (goals and guardrails) to improve student outcomes in reading, math and life, college, and career readiness. In the next three years, I am committed to onboarding a new superintendent; supporting mental health services; prioritizing resources that address learning loss; reimagining the district’s plan for student wellness/safety; and recruiting a qualified, diverse, and culturally responsive workforce.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage School Board?
I am a lifelong learner, public servant, and advocate for youth and families. More importantly, I am the mother of two adult children who both graduated from the Anchorage School District; and Nana to two grandkids who are currently attending ASD schools. My leadership experience includes the classroom, the library, and the boardroom. I believe in the power of community and have served on several local, state, and national youth-serving committees and boards of directors. ASD will need committed, innovative and experienced leadership to keep us on track and focused on students. I am more than prepared and qualified to continue serving Anchorage students, parents, and community members for three more years on the school board.
What’s your vision for public education in Anchorage?
I believe every student in Anchorage deserves the same access to high quality educational learning experiences in a safe environment that allows them to thrive. Currently, our data dashboard shows clear disparities in outcomes for students when it comes to race and class. I will continue to invest in creative ways to identify barriers to access and learning and dismantle them so all ASD students can thrive.
What’s the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?
Successful student outcomes. School systems exist to improve student outcomes — what do students know and what are they able to do. Each decision I make begins and ends with what’s best for our students. Our data dashboard clearly shows some students are doing well and benefiting more than others. So, in the last three years, I engaged in a four-phase strategic planning process, which translated into the board’s newly adopted goals and guardrails which define the direction for education in the ASD for the next five years. I’ve supported policies, programs, and practices that focus on successful outcomes for all students and foster environments where students, staff and parents want to belong. I voted for the apprenticeship policy, adopted a new math curriculum, voted to re-charter four charter schools, and co-sponsored the anti-racism and instructional equity policies. I am committed to accomplishing our community’s goals, while operating within our guardrails.
If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be _____. Explain.
Move towards mandatory and systemic implementation of restorative justice practices, structures, and strategies throughout the ASD. I would review our current discipline policies, practices and structures and require that all schools, K-12, implement age-appropriate restorative justice practices in our schools. This transition will take time and resources but will improve student achievement, school climate and address current disparities in discipline. This will also move us away from the traditional zero-tolerance and punitive discipline model to a behavior intervention model that will still hold students accountable, build meaningful relationships, allow students to make restitution when possible, and allow students to remain connected to the school community. Many schools are already using restorative practices and many others are not.
Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?
Yes, Anchorage students have not had a “normal” year of school since the 2018 earthquake, which has resulted in learning loss for many students. We need to look closely at individual assessments and meet students where they are at now.
Do you have ideas for how ASD can improve its career and technical education curriculum?
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is included in Board Goal No. 3. This goal represents the community’s vision that ASD students are life, college, and career-ready when they graduate from high school. This goal has resulted in the identification of a specific pathways and indicators of what it means to be career-ready. In addition to the specific pathways and indicators that include career interest inventories, CTE pathways, dual credit career courses, I would advocate to expand the kind and number of student career internships, business mentorships and industry work experience opportunities.
Are you satisfied with current preschool options? Explain.
I believe that universal preschool should be available to every family who desires it. We know that to ensure the academic, social emotional and life goals for our students, we must ensure students have the opportunity to hone the critical readiness skills that preschool provides.
Is the Anchorage School District currently doing a good job of retaining quality teachers? What steps, if any, should the school board take to improve teacher retention?
Yes, but there is still work to be done. School Board members must continue advocate for adequate state funding and for a retirement system that values the work of teachers. In Anchorage, we do our part by funding our schools through our property taxes, but we also rely on state and federal revenues to operate significant portions of our local governments. The state funding for grades K-12 has not been increased since 2017. In that period, Alaska has experienced a rise in inflation of 11.6%. Prioritizing education, properly funding our schools, and fixing a broken retirement system will allow ASD to retain educators by offer competitive wages benefits, and a plan to retire with dignity.
Rate how the Anchorage School District has handled the pandemic, and why? What would you have done differently, if anything?
I think the Anchorage School District, and the Anchorage community, did the best it could to keep our students and staff safe and continuing to learn during an unprecedented time that shook the entire world. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to rate survival or loss during a pandemic.
Many students are struggling due to pandemic-related challenges, both academically and behaviorally. What are some strategies the school district should prioritize to help students recover from that period?
The district should implement strategies that elevate and strengthen student voice, that increase opportunities for student involvement in school and in the community, and strategies that directly remove barriers to academic success. The district must also prioritize instructional interventions and enhancements that support students where they are and provide a path to success.
What are your thoughts on how the topic of racism and its history in the United States should be taught in public schools?
We are all a part of America’s history. As such I believe our complete history, including the contributions of all Americans, should be taught in our schools. That means teaching our students both the triumphant AND the ugly truths about our collective past. All our students need to be able to trust that the educational materials they are learning from are historically accurate and up-to-date. They also need to know that they have access to all the learning materials necessary to learn and grow.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
The pandemic, the 2018 earthquake, and recent national and local school incidents have expanded the definition and expectation of student health and safety. Our students and staff must feel physically, mentally, socially and emotionally safe in school, whether walking our halls, learning in our classrooms or riding the school bus. The district’s response to these expectations, now and in the future, requires a comprehensive and inclusive plan to address all definitions of safety.